If you’re an artistic student interested in exploring a variety of traditional liberal arts offerings (or just a few), Vassar College could be the place for you. While the top majors are English, economics, psychology, political science and biology, Vassar is well known for its programs in drama, film and music. The campus has a vibrant, artsy atmosphere and is definitely a place where a student who has been active in music or theater will be comfortable (even if they don’t want to major in the arts).
Vassar’s 2500-member student body is larger than most small liberal arts colleges, so students won’t feel like they are at an itty-bitty school. My tour guide Ali said she regularly walks into a classroom and sees someone she’s never met before, along with several people she knows well. The average class has about 17 students – no class ever has more than 35 students – and the student-to-faculty ratio is 8:1. Professors are very accessible to students, and there are no teaching assistants or graduate students at Vassar.
Vassar is very proud of the fact that it does not have a core curriculum, nor distribution requirements. Students are required to take a freshman writing course, a course that has some quantitative aspect (there are many courses, including some psychology classes, that will satisfy this requirement) and must be proficient in a foreign language by the time they graduate (this is the only requirement you can satisfy with a successful AP test score – but there are 21 foreign languages taught here – why not learn something new!?). Aside from these, Vassar students are free to take whatever classes they want while fulfilling their major, or designing their own.
Vassar was founded as a women’s college in 1861 and was the first of the Seven Sisters colleges to go co-ed in 1969. Women now make up about 56% of the student body, which is similar to the national average for all colleges. Vassar is ranked #10 on US News’ list of national liberal arts colleges and is considered highly selective. While it has a very well-regarded reputation, my tour guide told us she did not feel it was competitive in a negative way. She felt the students were “incredibly collaborative,” supportive of one another’s activities, and not pretentious.
98% of Vassar students live in the dorms, which are not segregated by year. So freshmen are assigned to share rooms with other freshmen in dorms they share with upperclassmen. There are no resident assistants, only “student fellows” trained to help freshmen transition, there for emotional support. Each dorm has a faculty member in residence as well….and a Steinway piano in the common room (which is why Vassar has the largest collection of Steinway pianos outside of the Steinway factory).
Meryl Streep is an alumna and a strong supporter of Vassar; her daughter graduated in 2013. California students make up 12% of the student body, second only to New York state students. The campus is registered as a National Arboretum; 500 acres of the 1000 acre campus is an ecological preserve.
Sophomore Ali talks about why she loves her Vassar experience in the video below, and beneath that you can scroll through all of the photos from my visit.